Melbourne is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene – and while art galleries and museums abound within the city, the quiet suburban neighbourhood of Kew houses one unlike any other.
Enter the Lyonhouse Museum at 219 Cotham Road.
Part museum, part home, it is where the owners, the Lyons, display their extensive collection of contemporary Australian artwork – the largest in Australia. It is also where they live.
The Lyon Housemuseum was designed by architect Corbett Lyon. Together with his wife Yueji, the couple have been collecting art for over 29 years, and now have over 350 pieces. When they decided to move into a new home in the mid-2000s, they decided to have a purpose-built residence-cum-museum, inspired by private art collections displayed in residential settings, such as Sir John Soane’s Museum in London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
Stepping into the living room, we were welcomed by art pieces and installations blending harmoniously together with regular furniture like a cosy sofa, couches and bookshelves. In a corner were two large and cute-looking ‘baby’ trucks, one in pink and the other in blue, by Patricia Piccinini.
Yueji Lyon brought us on a tour of the home. She pointed at the ceiling and walls, which were covered in text that came together to form the word ART. “You get the names of the girls’ (Yueji’s daughters) best friends, places we’ve visited, and there’s also text in Chinese, which is my first language,” Yueji quipped. “It’s like a history of the house’s occupants.” She then flipped open a cupboard to reveal a collection of trinkets and souvenirs that the family has collected from their travels. It was certainly a unique thing to see, how the space blended both the public and the private.
At the hallway was The Carrier 2012, also by Patricia Piccinini – featuring the figure of an ape-like creature carrying an old woman. The sculpture was extremely life-like, from the texture of the ‘skin’ down to the minute detail of folds, creases, fine hairs, moles and blemishes. Many of her works follow the same vein with humanoid/artificial elements blended together; fascinating but also somewhat unsettling. Imagine stumbling across this late at night!
The Central Music Room was a large auditorium-esque hall with a massive, modified pipe organ that extended up to the ceiling. Yueji tells the group that if Corbett was the one leading the tour, he’d usually perform a piece for the audience! I was touched by how the family has opened up their home and their private collection for others to be able to enjoy them.
There was another room downstairs which I didn’t manage to take a picture of – a ‘Black Cube Space’ for video art. The cavernous ceiling made it feel like a movie theatre, and Yueji tells us that her daughters used to have friends over for sleepover nights there, where they’d watch films. Must be nice to have your own cinema at home!
The central space in the house is the White Cube, which resembles more of an actual art gallery, with white washed walls hung with paintings and artwork, as well as a central installation. Visitors are able to look down at it from the upper floor, as there are glass windows surrounding the space.
The dining room.
Even paper/print bags from their travels / shopping make for great decoration for the walls.
My dream home will have a book collection as big as this.
There are parts of the housemuseum that are not open to the public, such as the bedrooms, so visitors can’t just barge into wherever they like. It is, after all, still a private residence, and must be respected as such.
Visiting the Lyon Housemuseum was certainly a unique experience, and one that was very different from a regular art gallery. A must if you’re in Melbourne! Bookings for tours may be done at lyonhousemuseum,com.au. and cost AUD25 per pax (tours are limited to groups of 25). Alternatively, there is a more conventional gallery space adjacent to the Housemuseum building.